The best Law and Order: SVU celebrity guest stars include Bradley Cooper and Zoe Saldana.
Law and Order: SVU hit the airwaves in 1999, and it has been a staple of primetime television ever since, outlasting the main Law and Order series. Starring Mariska Hargitary as Olivia Benson and Christopher Melloni as Elliot Stabler, alongside Ice-T and Richard Belzer, the series has seen an amazing parade of famous celebrities during its 24 year run. Most of them, for some reason, end up playing the villain, which leads to some of Hollywood’s most beloved stars playing against type.
10. Lynda Carter (Season 7, Episode 2)
The original Wonder Woman, Lynda Carter, made her first appearance in Law and Order: SVU’s Season 7 episode, “Design,” as a very different type of character, Lorraine Dillion, a genius manipulator. Everyone knows that Lorraine is up to no good with her daughter, but it’s a struggle for the team to prove, which drives Olivia Benson crazy. Carter did such a good job as one of the show’s most memorable villains that she later returned in Law and Order.
Lynda Carter did a lot with her time on Law and Order: SVU, but she’s not the only celebrity that deliberately played against type.
9. Serena Williams (Season 5, Episode 12)
Tennis legend Serena Williams has cameoed in multiple shows (her IMDb is impressive for a professional athlete), but one of her first was in the Law and Order: SVU Season 5 episode, “Brotherhood.” As Chloe Speirs, Williams played a collegiate athlete suspected of murder over a salacious video recorded by a frat boy. In her pivotal scene, the multiple Grand Slam winner gets to share the screen with Benson, explaining what happened after getting drunk one night.
The often parodied “talking to a suspect” scene is a hallmark of the Law and Order franchise, but in SVU, it’s usually not with men moving boxes off the back of a truck.
8. Bob Saget (Season 8, Episode 9)
Bob Saget became a household name playing everyone’s favorite television dad, Danny Tanner, on Full House, but in the New York of Law and Order: SVU, he’s a very different type of family man. Saget played Gleen Cheales, a man so desperate to hold onto his wife, he implanted her with an RFID tracking chip.
Law and Order: SVU Season 8 episode “Cheorographed” goes through twists and turns among multiple suspects, but through it all, Saget’s performance as a sleazy husband stands out against the sitcom performance that made him famous. John Stamos, another Full House star, also appeared in the series, but not in the same episode.
7. Norman Reedus (Season 7, Episode 22)
The Walking Dead star Norman Reedus was a very different type of guest star in the Law and Order: SVU episode, “Influence,” as the rock star Derek Lord. Railing against the medical industry, Lord gets involved in a case involving a teenager that attempted suicide and injured several people in the process. Reedus embodied the Hollywood celebrity that uses their platform to push pet causes, taking over a legal case to further his own political agenda.
Law and Order: SVU often ripped episodes from the latest headlines or to spotlight a contentious issue, and “Influence,” with its focus on mental health, is firmly one of the latter.
6. Bradley Cooper (Season 6, Episode 20)
Before The Hangover launched Bradley Cooper to stardom, the award-winning actor appeared on Law and Order: SVU’s cross-over episodes with the short-lived Law and Order: Trial By Jury. “Night” and “Day” center on allegations against a wealthy man, played by Alfred Molina, accused of assualting immigrants. The star-sttuded pair of episodes also includes Rita Moreno and another Hollywood legend that shows up later in this list.
Bradley Cooper plays one of the slimiest defense attorneys in the history of Law and Order: SVU, Jason Whitaker, a man tasked with saving Molina’s Gabriel Duvall from the heinous allegations. How he does that, and how far he goes, makes him another of the series’ worst (or best) villains.
5. Zoe Saldana (Season 5, Episode 21)
Zoe Saldana, one of the most successful stars in Hollywood, made a single appearance on Law and Order: SVU, that was supposed to eventually grow into a part as a series regular. As Gabrielle Vega, the daughter of a college professor accused of assualting a student, Saldana carries “Criminal,” standing against the NYPD throughout the entire investigation.
As a law student, Vega was supposed to come back later as a new Assistant District Attorney, but Zoe Saldana quickly became too big for Law and Order: SVU to tie her down as a regular. Instead, Saldana soon went to work on the short-lived drama Six Degrees, and then two small films, Avatar and Star Trek.
4. Angela Lansbury (Season 6, Episode 20)
Hollywood legend Angela Lansbury played the mother of Alfred Molina’s eccentric millionaire in the Law and Order: SVU episode “Night” and Law and Order: Trial By Jury episode “Day.” The cross-over episode was the third time Lansbury was able to act opposite Jerry Orbach, with the first two coming in her classic series, Murder She Wrote, and also Disney‘s animated Beauty and the Beast.
On Law and Order: SVU though, Angela Lansbury went back to her Manchurian Candidate roots as Elanor Duvall, a mother that will do anything to protect her son and ensure he has everything he ever wants in life. The result is yet another in the Law and Order franchises‘ long-line of recognizable stars playing evil people.
3. Carol Burnett (Season 10, Episode 16)
In one of Law and Order: SVU’s greatest celebrity appearances, Carol Burnett is Birdie Sulloway, a murder suspect in Season 10’s “Ballerina.” The classic Hollywood comedian was also an accomplished dancer herself, with the footage of Birdie archival footage of Burnett herself. In listing the clubs she’s danced at, they’re real, and actual locations that Burnett frequented as a performer.
Scooby-Doo and Scream star Matthew Lillard plays her nephew, but the episode is a showcase for Carol Burnett to go against type. Still not the most famous performer to be a villain, or at least, “morally bent” in Law and Order: SVU’s history, she is the most accomplished star to ever appear on the show.
2. Alec Baldwin (Season 15, Episode 18)
Alec Baldwin is a jerk reporter in Law and Order: SVU, portraying Jimmy MacArthur in two episodes, each time running up against Benson. In the first, Season 15’s “Criminal Stories,” he’s running stories about how a rape victim made up the story, and then later, in Season 16’s “Decaying Morality,” he publishes a victim’s name. MacArthur isn’t evil, or directly involved in the criminal case, but he manages to insert himself into the thick of the action.
Channeling the type of jerk that he played in Glengarry Glen Ross and 30 Rock, Alec Baldwin’s self-assured cockiness going up against Olivia Benson made for one of the season’s best episodes, and arguably, one of the best in the series to date.
1. Robin Williams – Season 9, Episode 17
For Law and Order: SVU’s landmark 200 episode, which aired 15 years ago in 2008, putting the series’ longevity into perspective, Robin Williams guest-starred as the anti-authority Merritt Rook. Amazingly, the episode is based on a true story, in part at least, as it takes a wild turn that pushes Benson and Stabler to their limits. Williams, known for his comedy, was always an incriedble villian, and in his performance as Rook, he demonstrates why for everyone that didn’t see him in One-Hour Photo or Insomnia.
Merritt Rook is one of Robin Williams’ creepiest roles, and though it gets crazy towards the end, it doesn’t undercut that he may be the most dangerous, devious, and effective villain in the history of Law and Order: SVU.